Notes on  Max Weber's
Patrimonial System

Ben Stavis
September 1999

A "patrimonial system" is defined as any form of political domination or authority based on personal and bureaucratic power exerted by a royal household. Patrimonialism is a relatively broad term, not referring to any particular type of political system. The crucial elements are that:

1. Power is formally arbitrary.

2. Administration is under direct control of the ruler. This means it involves the employment of retainers or slaves, mercenaries and conscripts, who themselves possess no independent basis of power, that is, are not members of traditional landed aristocracy.

The limitation of patrimonialism, according to Weber, is that it was inherently unstable, tending to be subject to political upheavals, which arose from the emergence of rival centers of power. Since historically patrimonial systems were usually replaced by further patrimonial systems, their existence is seen as a barrier to any sustained economic and social transformation.
 
 
  Patrimonial Feudal
Authority patrons lords
  clients vassals
staff kinsmen, slaves, dependents, clients, loyalists  
decentralization praebends (allocated) fiefs (conquered
  vital obsolete
  integrated in bureaucracy not integrated
  centralized decentralized
  moral/intellectual authority pragmatic power
  elite controls economy for morality profit
inheritance of land land divided, looses power land concentrated
religion man's adjustment to social order adjust to other world

 

Traditional forms of patrimonial systems:
 
 
chief one leader
gerontocracy rule by a group of elders
patriarchalism authority is exercised by a particular individual who is designated by a definite rule of inheritance -- exercise of power is a private prerogative -- no real administrative staff
patrimonialism involves personal administrative staff, some constraints by tradition
economic development hurt by :
            lack of trained administrators
           corruption
           economic regulation
sultanism absolute authority is maximized, for self interest, use of force to remove all constraints